The U.S. and North Korea will convene working-level nuclear talks for the first time since before President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi, Vietnam, for their second summit in February.
It could the first step towards a third meeting between the two leaders or a breakthrough amid months of stalemate.
But Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday these “staff-level negotiations are” are meaningless because they would only “achieve a commitment from North Korea it will never honor.” In his first public remarks since departing the White House, Bolton argued Kim would never give up his nuclear weapons program “voluntarily” and argued piece by piece against Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim, without naming his former boss.
In a state media statement Tuesday, North Korea’s first vice minister for foreign affairs Choe Son Hui announced negotiations would take place on October 5, after an initial meeting on October 4.
“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-U.S. relations,” she said, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed to ABC News that talks would occur “within the next week,” but said she did not have other details to provide, such as a date or location.
During their meeting at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in June, Trump and Kim agreed to working-level talks, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said afterward would happen in mid-July. But weeks turned to months without any arrangements being made.
During that time, North Korea instead test-fired six rounds of ballistic missiles — a total of eight since the Hanoi summit ended without an agreement. Analysts — and Bolton, Trump’s longest-serving National Security Advisor — have warned that those tests allow North Korea to enhance its missile capability and undermine United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the launches.
Trump and Pompeo, however, have dismissed or downplayed them, saying they do not violate a personal agreement between Trump and Kim that Pyongyang will not test nuclear devices or the longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles — a promise Kim reportedly made in person, but that has never been codified in a deal.
Trump and Kim’s first meeting in Singapore in June 2018 yielded a vague joint declaration that committed their countries to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and a change in their relations. But the two sides still don’t have a shared definition of that term, and the second meeting in Vietnam ended when North Korea offered only to dismantle its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, but not its existing nuclear weapons stockpile or its secret other sites, in exchange for economic sanctions being lifted.
The sequencing has stopped any forward movement. The U.S. has instead said sanctions won’t be lifted until North Korea begins to dismantle its entire nuclear weapons program, which Bolton argued Monday Kim has not decided he will do.
With both sides spending the last eight months demanding the other change its negotiating position, working-level talks are seen as critical to possibly finding a path forward. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is expected to lead the American team. He attended Trump’s DMZ meeting in June and led U.S. negotiators in the talks leading up to the Hanoi summit, but beyond those meetings, he’s largely been ignored by North Korea, which instead seeks direct engagement with Trump.
It’s unclear what prompted working-level talks to happen now. State Department officials have consistently said since June that the U.S. is ready to meet whenever North Korea is, but beyond the exchange of some letters with Trump, there has been little interaction.